Inside Brittney Sykes’ decision to return to Syracuse

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first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on April 18, 2016 at 9:54 pm Contact Connor: [email protected] | @connorgrossman Not even 24 hours after losing in the national championship game, Brittney Sykes got a call she never expected. She was sitting in Schine Student Center with volleyball players Amber Witherspoon and Christina Oyawale when Sykes’ phone buzzed, showing her head coach’s phone number.“‘Listen, I have some bittersweet news,’” Sykes recalled Quentin Hillsman telling her around 5 p.m. on April 6. “’You only have 24 hours to decide if you’re going to leave or stay.’”Twenty months of recovery boiled down into a matter of hours with one phone call. Countless days crutching through snow. Miserable weeks spent largely on training room tables. All that time spent trying to recreate the player she once was before back-to-back ACL tears in 2014 and 2015. Sykes’ decision loomed to return to Syracuse for a fifth year or depart for the WNBA, and the clock was ticking so she could be eligible for the draft.She was “stunned,” and told Hillsman she needed a few hours, knowing in her mind she needed far more than that. Sykes wasn’t more than a couple hours removed from the team’s flight home from Indianapolis, but immediately began dialing a short list of important contacts. None of which included the teammates she just finished an improbable five-month journey with.I didn’t want to bring (them) into that decision. Something of that magnitude, whether you’re going to … play in the WNBA, or stay one more year with your teammates … it’s big.Brittney SykesSo she strayed away from her closest friends, and her previous claim to Hillsman ended up a lie. Sykes guessed it only took her 40 minutes — not hours — before she called back her head coach to inform him that she was staying. That she needed another year to build up her lower body. That she wanted another run at history, perhaps to close out the season’s final 40 minutes in grander fashion than SU did in an 82-51 loss to Connecticut in the national title game.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHer three phone calls — first to assistant coach Tammi Reiss, then to her mom and finally back to Hillsman — in that 40-minute span offered as much discussion about her past as it did her immediate future. Sykes had just wrapped up her first full season in two years, averaging just over 10 points and 29 minutes per game as she appeared in every one of SU’s 38 contests.But she knew at times she was a shadow of her former self, and her hulking right-knee brace was an ever-present reminder of that. Opponents like Georgia Tech whizzed past Sykes on her right at the top of the zone, and she struggled to drop back on her reconstructed knee.Her jump shot went into ruts, as she opted for it more than ever instead of driving the lane. So when talking to Reiss, a former WNBA guard herself, the first-year assistant laid out the pros of playing another collegiate year to better learn the playing style of her healing body.“That’s like the big thing for me right now. Just getting stronger, making sure I stay healthy,” Sykes said. “Get one more year under my belt post-injury.“Once you do that, and I get to come out of my brace, there’s a lot of things that happens with staying.”Evan Jenkins | Staff Photographercenter_img And just as it was with Reiss, learning was a focal point of Sykes’ discussion with her mom, Regina. The two mulled over the decision throughout the season, not necessarily thinking about staying an extra year to polish off a basketball career, but for Sykes to become the first member of her family to earn a master’s degree.Regina Sykes didn’t adamantly steer her daughter down one path, but maintained that if Sykes wanted to pursue a WNBA career now, she needed a clear idea about where her position might be on a draft board.I believe she had a great chance of getting drafted. When you hear from just about every team in the league, you probably know (she’s) going to get drafted.Quentin HillsmanBut Sykes wasn’t naïve to the jaded prism she could be viewed through, shining brightly on her right knee.And Regina Sykes wasn’t remiss to point out of the finality of her daughter’s decision. That if Sykes left Syracuse for the WNBA, there was no easy path to return and finish her education.“I knew she was gonna stay,” Regina Sykes recalled thinking upon hanging up the phone.So lastly, Sykes dialed back her head coach. The one who began her tailspin, forcing her down a path she thought she’d have days to map out. She had heard everything she needed to hear, but Hillsman echoed Reiss’ message for final emphasis.That they believed in Sykes, and she would be fine if she left for the WNBA. But that there was an upside to playing one more season at school with her ACL injuries in the rearview.More time to smooth over her outside shot. More time to help develop a roster laden with young talent. More time to define a legacy and career Sykes couldn’t find closure for unless she left room for one more chapter.“I just think coming back for one more year,” Sykes said, “… it’s set me up for a better exiting ticket.” Commentslast_img

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